Facing Divorce. Now What?
You and your spouse have been heading down an uncertain path for some time. Despite your best efforts to mend the relationship, you’ve reached an unavoidable and unwelcome detour: divorce.
Whether sudden or gradual, the decision to divorce is not an easy one, and neither is the dramatic shift in daily life you are encountering. Where do you go from here?
Hiring a Divorce Attorney
Once you’ve gathered your thoughts, your next move is probably to find a good divorce attorney. Your natural inclination may be to find the toughest, most aggressive “bulldog” attorney to fight for everything you feel you’re entitled to. But the best divorce attorney has more going for him or her than the biggest bark!
In my video below, I will explain the successful strategy behind finding the right one for you, with additional valuable information to follow in the article below.
What to Look For in a Divorce Attorney
Contributing to this difficult time is the pressure of finding the best divorce attorney for you. In fact, who you hire as a divorce attorney may be the most critical decision you make. Choosing the wrong one can cost you not only your valuable rights but thousands in unnecessary legal fees. And the last thing you need during this pivotal time is additional stress!
Apart from perhaps purchasing a home or preparing a will, hiring a divorce attorney is many people’s introduction into the legal system as well as their first experience with hiring an attorney.
So, how do you find the ideal attorney for divorce? Read my crucial tips below:
1. Look for an attorney who only practices divorce or family law.
Everyone has a friend or relative with a law degree, and, though well-intentioned, they will want to make a referral. But trust me. Resist the temptation to hire your uncle, the real estate attorney, or your friend, the patent attorney. Doing so would be like hiring a computer technician to service your car!
The various areas of law are far more different than you may think, and the laws surrounding divorce are complicated and ever-changing. Hiring an inexperienced lawyer, or one without experience in handling divorce could result in you sacrificing your valuable rights.
An experienced divorce attorney will have the skills to not only deal with financial issues, like disposing of the marital home, distributing bank accounts, pensions, and investments but will also have the skillset to resolve the emotional and psychological issues involved in a child custody case.
2. Get a referral.Talk to friends and family who have been through a divorce. Ask them for feedback about their divorce attorney. Did they like their attorney? More specifically, was the attorney responsive to their calls and emails? Did the attorney fully explain the process and properly manage their expectations?
The number one complaint against divorce attorneys is that they do not return telephone calls. Personally, I make this a priority. Clients often tell me that they appreciate how all of their calls and emails are answered within hours.
3. Examine the attorney’s website and read their reviews.
Getting divorce attorney recommendations from friends and family is valuable, but take it a step further. Look at attorney reviews on Google and AVVO. See what other clients have said about the attorney. Go to the attorney’s website. How does the attorney present himself?
4. Look further than “the bulldog” attorney.
During the initial consultation, divorce attorneys hear variations on the same question and request:
“Are you a fighter?” or
“I need a bulldog!” or
“I need someone who is collaborative. Can you work with my ex’s attorney?”
The old adage is if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail! The bulldog attorney generally only has one tool in his or her toolbox: aggressive litigation. Oftentimes, these “bulldog” lawyers promise to leave no stone unturned so that you will “win” at all costs. What this really means is that his or her aggressive litigation tactics will run up a whole lot of time—billable time—that you are paying for.
5. Schedule a consultation — and use it wisely.
Meet with prospective divorce attorneys and make good use of your time there. Come prepared to talk about your case and express your expectations and concerns. Bring relevant information about your income, assets, liabilities, and expenses with you. It is important to leave the consultation educated about your rights and with the building blocks for a case strategy.
Throughout your consultation, ask yourself, “Is the attorney listening to me?” and “Does he or she seem to understand my needs and my goals?”
After your consultation, ask yourself if you walked away from the meeting with a possible legal strategy or an understanding of the likely outcome of your case.
Determine whether your divorce attorney was accurately represented by their website and online reviews. If you feel that something is “off” it is best to keep searching.
6. Does the attorney have the necessary experience and competence?
Use the consultation to learn about the attorney and his or her experience. What percentage of their practice is devoted to divorce and family law issues? Does the attorney have the skillset to understand your case and protect your rights?
Again, I stress that hiring an acquaintance who specializes in some other field will not be productive or bring you the results that you want; you need a lawyer who regularly works in family law and understands the issues of equitable distribution and child custody.
7. Is the divorce attorney a good fit?
This person is going to be your advocate, your guide, advisor, and sounding board during an incredibly stressful time in your life. Ask yourself:
- Am I comfortable with this person?
- Do I feel free to ask questions?
- Is he or she able to answer my questions and provide information in a way that makes sense?
- Do I feel that my concerns are being addressed?
- Does he or she come across as organized and knowledgeable?
8. What else should I look for in a divorce attorney?
An effective divorce attorney is practical, pragmatic, creative, proactive, and reactive. Seemingly contradictory, it is possible to be firm, but conciliatory; aggressive, yet fair. Like a good boxer, the best divorce attorney knows how to both bob and weave to avoid the punishing blows and to jab and wear down the opposition–all while being ready, willing, and able to throw a knockout punch!
A matrimonial case is not one-dimensional; the issues are financial, legal, emotional, and psychological. The fight, sometimes, may appear to be about money, but the underlying issue may stem from feelings of rejection or a desire for control. Other times, the dispute may simply be about money. A good attorney for divorce will discern what the case is about, and adjust his or her strategy accordingly to achieve a successful and cost-effective result.
You can take some comfort in the fact that not every divorce and every issue within the divorce needs to be fully litigated. Most cases settle. Even the cases that cannot be settled, it is rare that every issue needs to be exhaustively litigated.
The only one who will benefit from excessive litigation is the attorney. He or she will bill you aggressively and end up with the lion’s share of the marital assets.
On the other hand, you do not want to retain the overly conciliatory attorney either. The right divorce attorney is pragmatic and flexible enough to make a deal, but firm enough to protect your interests.
9. Hire the attorney; not the firm.
It’s natural to look to the large law firms because after all, the large law firms tend to be the best-known. But if you are going to hire a large law firm to represent you, make sure you know who will be working on your case. The senior divorce attorney you thought you hired will most likely delegate the bulk of the real casework to a less-experienced associate. Make sure you understand who will be working on your case on a daily basis.
10. Do you have a high net worth divorce case?
If you have a high net worth and are going through a divorce in New York, you may have special concerns when it comes to representation from a divorce attorney. Protecting your assets, especially if you did not sign a prenuptial agreement is key. The right divorce attorney has a solid background in high net worth cases and will help you set realistic expectations when it comes to custody and child support. They will protect your rights and your assets, and can even settle your divorce without going to trial.
11. Know that you have choices in the divorce process
A major takeaway is to understand that you have choices. You can attempt to negotiate. You can mediate. You can attempt to resolve the case collaboratively, or you can litigate or, for the most part, any combination of these methods. You want to hire an attorney with all of these skillsets.
You should hire a divorce attorney who is practical, creative, experienced, and pragmatic. You want an attorney who is not only capable of being your fierce advocate but one who can be a dealmaker and is ready, willing, and able to settle your case.
Consider all of the factors above as part of your “divorce attorney hiring process,” and you’re right on track for retaining the best divorce attorney for you!
Facing divorce? Please contact us or call (212) 683-9551 to discuss your specific situation. We look forward to speaking with you.